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Return to Sender: Competition offers chance to 3D print on the International Space Station

Aspiring engineers may gain access to the International Space Station’s (ISS) 3D printer through a new competition to design objects for microgravity 3D printing. The winning university team of Print the Future will collaborate with Made in Space — the company behind the ISS’s Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) — to refine its design before having the object printed aboard the ISS and sent back down to Earth.

Design concepts are expected to help address space endeavors such as interplanetary transport, construction, and habitation.

The competition itself is a collaboration between organizations from diverse backgrounds, including nonprofit educator Enterprise in Space (EIS), engineering consultant Prairie Nanotechnology, publishing platforms Sketchfab and 3D Hubs, and higher educator the Kepler Space Institute.

“The Print the Future competition was inspired in part by the mission of EIS’ parent organization, the National Space Society, which seeks to see people living and working in thriving communities beyond the Earth,” EIS founder, Shawn Case, told Digital Trends.

With Made in Space’s commercial 3D printer now installed on the ISS, it may be more practical to print objects in space rather than launch them up there. The competition organizers hope entrants will develop viable designs for this microgravity manufacturing.

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Print the Future is the second competition spearheaded by EIS. Last year, the organization selected three winners in its Enterprise in Space Orbiter Design Contest, which challenged contestants to design science fiction-inspired spacecraft that would then be built and launched into Earth’s orbit and that would carry — and carry out — over 100 student experiments.

“Our hope is that some of the world’s most gifted university and postgraduate students will come up with designs for cutting-edge ideas that will help humanity flourish in space,” Case said.

Print the Future is accepting submissions until February 15, 2017 with the ten semi-finalists announced a month later. Winners will be chosen by April 15.